Sister Simone Campbell to UUs: walk towards trouble

Sister Simone Campbell to UUs: walk towards trouble

Sonja L. Cohen
Ware Lecture - Sister Simone Campbell

Ware Lecture - Sister Simone Campbell ©Nancy Pierce/UUA. All rights reserved.

©Nancy Pierce/UUA. All rights reserved.


Sister Simone Campbell wants UUs to “walk towards trouble.” The national coordinator of NETWORK (a National Catholic Social Change Lobby) well-known for her advocacy work on issues of peace-building, immigration reform, healthcare, and economic justice, as well as her Nuns on the Bus tour, presented the 2014 General Assembly Ware Lecture Saturday evening at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, R.I.

Each year, the UUA president and GA Planning Committee invite a distinguished speaker to present the Ware Lecture. Previous Ware Lecturers include the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Mary Oliver, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., and Winona LaDuke.

The charismatic Campbell got plenty of laughs during her lecture, affectionately referring to Pope Francis as “Pope Frank” and joking about the people who are on her “Mistakes of God” list. She also shared wisdom learned during her 50 years of justice work.

Campbell said when she was on the first Nuns on the Bus social justice tour, a full-time videographer came along. Near the end of the trip he said, “It seems like whenever there is trouble, you seem to walk towards it; most people run away.” She said: “I realized that all of our spiritual leaders, when there are broken hearts or pain in our world, they have walked towards it. They walk towards the pain in order to embrace, touch, heal. If the high level leaders do that, isn’t that the witness that we all try to follow?”

Throughout the lecture, she shared stories of a variety of individuals from around the world that have inspired her on her walk towards trouble, including a young woman she met in the White House who had to live in a homeless shelter because her full-time job paid so little, and a man she met in 2002 in a Baghdad restaurant where a wedding party was being held, who asked her, “How long do my niece and her new husband have to live in peace? How long until you start bombing?”

Our society–and our nation—is a pluralistic society, Campbell explained. “Where we meet is in community. Where we meet is in the first three words of the Constitution, which is ‘We the people.’ It is an unpatriotic lie that we’re based in individualism, and we’ve got to cut it out.” It’s we the people, she said, that are going to make something happen because we can create the vision.

She challenged the audience to contact their representatives to demand that Speaker John Boehner bring immigration to the floor of the House, and also urged them to do “grocery store missionary work”: talk to people you don’t know about things that really matter. Talk to people in line at the store, she said; ask them what they think about immigration reform or raising the minimum wage. Her experience has been that people have thought about it and have something to say, but no one asks them.

“What I have discovered,” she said, “is that if you walk towards community, we become deeply aware of the truth that we’re in this together. That we are not separate, that there is no real discernible difference when you get right down to it. … We may have different stories to tell, but it’s the same hunger, the same desire, the same passion to make a difference in our world, to care for our family, to be who we are called to be.”

Campbell concluded her lecture by reading “Incarnation,” a poem she wrote in Baghdad, a portion of which was:

Let compassion be our hands,
reaching to be with each other, all others
to touch, hold, heal this fractured world.

Let wisdom be our feet,
bringing us to the crying need
to friends or foe to share this body’s blood.

Let love be our eyes,
that we might see the beauty, see the dream
lurking in the shadows of despair and dread.

When she finished, the audience erupted into a loud and lengthy round of standing applause and shouts that resembled a rock-concert crowd demanding an encore.